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Introduction to chosen culture

• Tibetan Buddhist perspective on death and dying

A Brief Explanation of the Death Process from a Buddhist

Resources used:
Death, Intermediate State and Rebirth in Tibetan Buddhism
By Lati Rinpoche and Jeffery Hopkins

The Tibetan Book of the Dead - The Great Liberation Through Hearing in the Bardo
By Guru Rinpoche (according to Karma Lingpa)
With Commentary by Francesca Freemantle and Chögyam Trungpa

The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

By Sogyal Rinpoche

Also see:
Advice on Dying
By HH the Dalai Lama
All errors due to Ven. Lozang Yönten 2008
- In a natural death these signs can take weeks, days or hours.
- In a sudden death these signs appear in quick succession.
The a. physical symptoms, b. internal causes and c. visual
1) First Dissolution, the Form Aggregate
a. Feeling of heaviness, one has the impression that they are sinking
• difficulty moving limbs and the body becomes smaller and weaker
• eyes have trouble opening and closing
• skin’s lustre diminishes
b. Earth Element dissolves into the Water Element
c. Vision of a Mirage
2) Second Dissolution, the Feeling Aggregate
a. Feeling of dryness of tongue, eyes, etc.
• difficulty experiencing the pleasure, pain and neutral feeling that
accompany the sense consciousnesses
• ears have trouble hearing external and internal sounds – buzzing in
ears stops
• sweat, blood, urine, saliva etc. are drying up significantly
b. Water Element dissolves into the Fire Element
c. Vision of Billowing Smoke
3) Third Dissolution, the Discrimination Aggregate
a. Feeling of cold of extremities – difficultly staying warm and with digestion
• difficulty remembering this life’s events and even family
• nose cannot detect odours
• breathing is shallow breathing in and heaving and lengthy breathing
b. Fire Element dissolves into the Air Element
c. Vision of Sparks Flying Up
4) Fourth Dissolution, the Compositional Factor Aggregate (medical death)
a. Feeling of disassociation from external world - everything become
• body cannot move, breath ceases, cannot feel external sensations
• tongue cannot taste, turns blue
• gross awareness of motivations is gone
b. Air Element dissolves into Consciousness
c. Vision of Flickering Flame (like a butter lamp in the wind, about to go out)
5) Fifth Dissolution, [The Eighty Natural] Conceptions
a. Thoughts such as Hunger, thirst, sorrow and attachment fade away to
subtler states of mind
b. All the winds in the right and left channels above the heart have entered
the central channel and upper chakras are loosening allowing movement up
the central channel whereas before there were knots of the channels at
either chakra
c. Vision of Radiant White Appearance
6) Sixth Dissolution, Mind of Appearance into Mind of Increase (gross mind in
subtle mind)
a. all the winds in the right and left channels below the heart have entered
the central channel and the lower chakras open allowing movement in the
lower parts of the central channel.
b. Vision of Radiant Red Increase
7) Seventh Dissolution, Mind of Increase together with its wind into Mind of Near
a. upper and lower winds gather in the central channel at the hear, the
heart chakra is loosened
b. Vision of Black Near Attainment
8) Eighth Dissolution, Mind of Near Attainment into Clear Light
a. Actual Death (4 stages after clinical death)
• sign in an ordinary death is a drop of blood emerges from the nose and sexual organ
b. Most subtle mind is manifest without any gross conceptions.
• most notably free of the conception of subject and object
c. Vision of Clear Light (like autumn at dawn)

Intermediate State/Bardo
• Lasts from one moment to 49 days maximum.
• The being in the bardo can read the minds of others and travel anywhere
unobstructed(wind body)
• The body is in the aspect of the rebirth to be taken, if human, a child of around

• Will be into a realm based on the karma of the person, launched by the last
thought at the time of death, linking up with whatever Aspirational prayers one
has made prior.
o For example, a person who has made prayers in the past to be reborn
in a circumstance conducive to aiding others, at the time of death
remembers their motivation of wanting to aid, is then reborn in a
positive rebirth due to their previous positive karma.
o The implication of this is of course that a person living an ethical life
could take a negative rebirth if their last thought were negative and
that a person living a non-virtuous life could take a positive rebirth if
their thoughts are virtuous at the time of death.
 So whoever we’re helping through the dying process, help them
to think well of others, to rejoice in their own and others good
actions and qualities and reconcile their negative ones the best
they can and put them to rest. It is important to die with a calm
mind, especially a calm mind pervaded by positive states like
love and compassion, bodhicitta etc.

2. Relevant social networks and associations

• when dying eg Cittamani, Karuna, requests for prayers,
suggested practices
• after death eg Powa, pujas
It’s important to ask anyone dying, Buddhist or not:
1) if they are willing to discuss their death and 2) what specifically they would like
done or not done

When Dying
There are any number of Buddhist practices that can be done and anything that
eases the person’s mind by doing or having done for them is fine. Some examples
traditionally done are:

1) Amitabha Practices (with or without powa practice accompanying it) with

mantras and prayers
2) Medicine Buddha Puja or Sadhana
3) Purification practices like Vajrasattva
4) Tara Praises
5) White Tara practice and mantras
6) Powa is a practice few Buddhists do and done properly is very advanced
There are a couple nuns who work either for Cittamani or Karuna who can do
these practices on sight or Chenrezig Institute can be contacted to ask the nuns
there to do practices on behalf of the dying person and/or family
• The main goal of a Buddhist while dying is to link up with a rebirth that is
conducive to their continuing to practice the Buddha-dharma/ the mind training
techniques that enable them to develop their minds in the most positive way.
o To do this, they must die with an altruistic motivation, thinking to
benefit others and taking refuge in Buddha’s teachings as a means to
continue to train their mind in a this positive way that will eventually
lead to a state beyond suffering (Nirvana) and on to full
Enlightenment (state in which the ultimate they can be of most
benefit of self and others).

If the dying person is having trouble with coming to terms with their death,
important things to help them with are:
1) Letting go of clinging to the friends and family in this life, help them to think of
their transition into a new life as a means to develop and ultimately help these
people that they love. They need to let go of attachment to people - not their love
but their clinging.
2) Letting go of material things – writing a Will is important, also if they would like
to give money to people or charities, help them to do this while they live so that
they can rejoice (thereby accumulating positive karma/merit) while they are still

Again, constantly check in with the person about what they specifically need to
ensure a good death. They might not want any family members around, so that
they can focus on their death practices or they might want everyone there to help
them relax and to remind them of their practice. At the very least, a Buddhist
person wants to die with a settled and peaceful mind, even if they can’t remain
lucid because of pain or medication etc. A peaceful death allows their better
habits to arise at the time of death. So help them by calming down emotional
people around them, etc.

After Death
Most traditionally a Guru Puja is done together with an extensive Tsog offering
and light offerings but if the person or family wants something else, it is best to
follow their wishes as best you can (especially as the death person is now a bardo
being and during that time, they are able to read the minds of others and be
anywhere they wish).

These practices generate positive mental energy (merit/positive karma) which,

because they are done on behalf of and for the dead person, can help that dead
person take a positive rebirth.

Practices can be done once, immediately after death; twice, one at death and
once after 49 days; once every 7 days (when it is said the bardo being takes a
mini death in the bardo while they wait for the proper conditions for their next
rebirth) until the 49 day period (maximum) that they might be in the bardo is
complete or even every day. This depends on the resources available at the time
and the dead persons wishes and that of their family.

3. Social and cultural preferences in personal care needs

• nutrition, hydration and elimination
• hygiene, skin care and oral health
• pain and medication
- These all would be individually discussed and probably the same as for people of
other faiths.
- There is no prohibition in Buddhism to using pain relief medication etc. though a
strong practitioner may opt not to use them.

4. Privacy needs

5. Emotional support

6. Preferences for end of life care

4 – 6 would again be similar as for folks of other faiths and very individual to each
person based on their expressed wishes, level of practice, etc.

7. Preferences for after death care

This varies:
• Some folks like to have their ashes blessed and places in a Stupa. This benefits them by
accumulating merit and their family member for organizing it and whenever they come to visit the
Stupa, they have the potential to give rise to positive states of mind when they look at a Holy Object.
The object itself is said to be beneficial for anyone who sees it in and of itself.
• Other people like to donate as many of their body parts as possible in order to make a generosity
offering of their physical form, this must be discussed first as organs are often harvested soon after
clinical death and a practitioner may want the body left alone for awhile so they can continue to
meditate without disturbance, after clinical death.

8. Ethical issues
for example

• "life support machines"

• euthanasia
• when to move the body
• etc?
This would be very individual. Some Buddhists would say its their karma to have
machines to support them and they would like to exhaust the negative karma that
has them in this suffering state by living this kind of life. Some wouldn’t.

Killing a human, for whatever reason, is seen as very negative in the Buddhist
tradition so therefore it would not be appropriate for active euthanasia (methods
to end the life other than just ‘pulling the plug’).

Moving the body should not be done, ideally, until it becomes obvious that decay
has begun. For strong practitioners it may take weeks though for ordinary people
it varies. Decay is the sign that the consciousness has left the body. So, as a
general rule, we say giving the body at least one to three days is best. At the very
very least, to let the body alone without hysterical people around or any
movement for a few hours if possible to ensure a peaceful transition as possible.

9. Pain management
Same as #3 though good to note some practitioners use meditations to combat pain and don’t need
medication. Again, just ask the specific person